A Fan’s Perspective: Barcelona need to pursue excellence

Ernesto Valverde has maintained a spotless record since he took over at Barcelona. Yes, he has had his fair share of criticism, but the Basque tactician continues to remain invincible (bar the pre-season losses).

His playing style and formation are outdated according to some, but it’s hard to argue against his undefeated streak. With the unexpected loss of Neymar and new-arrival Ousmane Dembele getting side-lined, Valverde’s man-management was hailed. And to be honest, it is remarkable to see Barcelona survive and occasionally thrive despite such drastic tactical and personnel changes.

Villarreal v Barcelona - La Liga
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Pragmatism has become the latest buzz-word in the Camp Nou. Being a purist is almost criminal in the current environment.

When Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City took on Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United at Old Trafford, it could have easily been dubbed as “El Clasico: The Sequel” for, the plot remained unchanged. It was pragmatism against a purist—the will to win against the pursuit of excellence. The immovable object against the unstoppable force. The purists triumphed.

Manchester United v Manchester City - Premier League
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The story of Barcelona is similar. Only, our conflicts are internal. Barcelona’s fan base has been divided in their wishes for how the team should perform. While some prefer the hard-nosed “backs-against-the-wall” approach deployed by Mourinho, there are those who prefer the elegant and excellence-oriented approach of Guardiola.

We are at odds against ourselves and the only way forward is to strive for excellence. To opt for excellence is to welcome success—to court it into an eternal embrace.

Villarreal v Barcelona - La Liga
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Being pragmatic is easy. It’s like that smooth one-liner which will help you strike up a conversation at a bar with success. However, to sustain it, there needs to be substance. Unfortunately, pragmatism will only take you so far. The pursuit of excellence, on the other hand, will build a foundation for success, that will define generations and leave a legacy—Barcelona is living proof.

In a purist’s eyes, being pragmatic is to pursue excellence.

Barcelona may be flirting with success at the moment but without excellence, it will not last for long.

Barcelona 2-0 Sporting CP: Player Ratings

Navjot’s ratings from the Champions League draw against the Portuguese side

Jasper Cillessen

A decent performance capped off by some vital saves. Perhaps his best moment in the game came when he saved a powerful attempt by Bas Dost and the hug that followed between the international team-mates

Navjot’s rating: 7


Nelson Semedo

Not his best game considering he had additional coverage from Aleix Vidal. Semedo never pushed high enough and lacked creativity. Picked up a booking which rules him out of the first leg of the next round.

Navjot’s rating: 6


Gerard Pique

A solid showing from Geri who looked comfortable in the heart of the defence. He made four clearances, won four headers, and attempted two successful tackles. All in all, a good night.

Navjot’s rating: 8


Thomas Vermaelen

Vermaelen is building a strong case as a third choice centre-back. Yes, he can barely stay fit. But when he is healthy, he looks exceptionally composed.

Navjot’s rating: 7


Lucas Digne

Digne had an incredible game. Three tackles, four interceptions, two clearances (which is good when you are on the flank) and won an impressive five aerial duels.

Navjot’s rating: 8


Andre Gomes

One of Andre Gomes’ best performances in a Barcelona shirt if you ask me. Of course, it’s not like a central midfielder will do well in—umm—central midfield.

Navjot’s rating: 8


Ivan Rakitic

An all-around performance from Rakitic who was excellent in defence. His passing was crisp from deep and had a purpose.

Navjot’s rating: 9


Denis Suarez

A good game from Denis. His teasing cross aimed at Paco Alcacer was well aimed and served its purpose as the Galician registered an assist for himself.

Navjot’s Rating: 8


Aleix Vidal

A pretty meh performance from Vidal who attempted a few crosses and stretched play but lacked ingenuity.

Navjot’s rating: 6


Paco Alcacer

Another performance from Alcacer that puts Luisito in the hot-seat. A good goal, with a hard-working display.

Navjot’s rating: 8


Luis Suarez

Some moments of brilliance that never came to fruition. The goals will come but at the moment, Suarez is struggling.

Navjot’s rating: 6


Lionel Messi

Came on with half an hour of play left. Had some good moments and forced play in the opposition third on a couple of occasions.

Navjot’s rating: 7


Sergio Busquets

Typical performance, and brought control to the side.

Navjot’s rating: 7


Paulinho

Not enough playing time.

Navjot’s rating: NA


Team

A good performance despite the not so attacking display.

Navjot’s rating: 7


Ernesto Valverde

In hindsight, playing Nelson Semedo (and a majority of the starters) in a throw-away game was not very wise. Barcelona, however, had enough wiggle room to make it happen which justifies the coach’s decisions.

Navjot’s rating: 7

Barcelona 5-0 Murcia, 2017 Copa del Rey: Community Ratings

A good win with a glimpse into the future.

Jasper Cillessen

The Dutch keeper did not have much to do all game but was aware at all times.

Navjot’s rating: 7

Your rating: 7


Nelson Semedo

Semedo had an incredible game on the offensive. His crossing also earned him an assist as Aleix Vidal got on the end of it.

Navjot’s rating: 7

Your rating: 8

Gerard Pique

Pique captained the side and also got on the scoresheet. It was a good day for the defender.

Navjot’s rating: 8

Your rating: 8

Thomas Vermaelen

After back-to-back starts, Vermaelen has proven his ability as a player. Now it’s in the coaches’ hands to use him effectively when fit, to rest key players. Good game for the Belgian.

Navjot’s rating: 7

Your rating: 7

Lucas Digne

It was not a great game from Digne offensively. In comparison to Alba who is in sensational form, Digne was a very mediocre presence.

Navjot’s rating: 6

Your rating: 7

Oriol Busquets

Oriol had a good outing on his debut. He was comfortable in possession and played some risky passes.

Navjot’s rating: 8

Your rating: 7

Carles Alena

It was an average performance that did not meet the expectations.

Navjot’s rating: 7

Your rating: 7

Denis Suarez

The best performer on the field by some distance. A good goal and some very good touches capped off an excellent performance.

Navjot’s rating: 9

Your rating: 9

Aleix Vidal

He got on the ball with a point to prove and had some good moves in the final third, including a well-taken goal.

Navjot’s rating: 8

Your rating: 9

Gerard Deulofeu

Arguably the worst performer on the field. He got into good positions and attempted moves that didn’t work.

Navjot’s rating: 6

Your rating: 6

Paco Alcacer

A good game, with the opening goal. Alcacer is making a case for himself every time he steps on the field.

Navjot’s rating: 8

Your rating: 8

Sergi Roberto

Another good performance from Sergi Roberto who wore the armband briefly. Operating from deep, he also assisted Denis’ goal.

Navjot’s rating: 8

Your rating: 8

David Costas

The centre-back who is on loan from Celta played an eventless game which is a good thing.

Navjot’s rating: 6

Your rating: 7

Jose Arnaiz

This kid deserves a shot with the first team. HIs goal was an absolute banger and he showed a ton of confidence.

Navjot’s rating: 8

Your rating: 8

The Team

An excellent game made even better by the number of B-teamers playing the game. My only gripe was the absence of Cucurella.

Navjot’s rating: 10

Your rating: 10

Man of the Match

An excellent performance from Denis proved that he is ready to compete for a spot in the first-team.

Navjot’s MOTM: Denis Suarez

Your MOTM: Denis Suarez

A Fan’s Perspective: This is not the Barcelona I fell in love with

Are the club starting to play for draws?

Barcelona put out an extremely defensive line-up against Juventus in their away leg in Turin. Despite the defensive XI, if there was any hope that the team would play attacking football, it was curbed by the tactics deployed by Ernesto Valverde.

There have been many hailing him as a pragmatist who managed to rest two key players in Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba. His defensive record is impressive and the team remains unbeaten. Why, then, was last night’s game the least Barcelona-like game I have seen in a while?

It might surprise some, but after nearly a decade of domination, for the first time, Barcelona stepped out on the pitch to play for a draw. A team that included Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez was set up to not win.

I would have been perfectly all right if this was some mid-table side or the Copa del Rey and the opposition was someone we could beat blind-folded. I would have loved a draw if there were B-teamers playing who could hold their own against the giants of European football. But a team full of starters? Why?

Oh, right! We already have the group sealed! Yes. We’re undefeated, and that’s always good.

But are we really okay with the team playing for a draw in Europe? Are we supposed to sit down in front of a TV and watch the team play a defensive game when it has the greatest of all time on the bench? I have no problem with resting Lionel Messi—he deserves it. But why not rest him when we are winning with a multiple-goal lead? Why let him play the full 90 in some matches and then rest him against one of best teams in Europe?

There are many who agree with the choices Ernesto Valverde makes. Unfortunately for me, I’m not one of them.

This is not the Barcelona I fell in love with.

Juventus 0-0 Barcelona, 2017 Champions League: Player Ratings

Zzz…

Marc André ter Stegen (7/10)

A fairly decent outing for the German. His distribution was on point for most of the game and he made some excellent saves during the course of the game.

Nélson Semedo (7/10)

The Portuguese full-back was impressive throughout the game. He constantly pressured Alex Sandro and kept the Brazilian in check. His offensive output was good while his defensive presence was solid.

Gerard Piqué (7/10)

Gerard Piqué had a quiet night which is a good thing. The Catalan was imposing in defence and cut out almost every single threat in the Barcelona box.

Samuel Umtiti (6/10)

Umtiti was a little off on the night and despite some scary moments, the Frenchman got away without any consequence. His passing was off and his positioning was suspect, but he got better as the game went on.

Lucas Digne (6/10)

Digne was a surprise inclusion ahead of Jordi Alba but was solid and impressive for the most part. Despite his lack of offensive output, he did enough in defence.

Sergio Busquets (8/10)

Despite some stray passes, Busquets brought his A-game on the night. Also, he destroyed Miralem Pjanic.

Andrés Iniesta (7/10)

Iniesta was great in attack and pressed the opposition like a hound, often coming to the aid of his defender.

Ivan Rakitić (5/10)

Every time the ball went to Rakitić, you could feel the game slow down like a terrapin. His runs were slow, his dribbles were pointless, and his passes lacked purpose. Apart from a brilliant set-piece delivery, the Croatian offered very little to the game.

Paulinho (6/10)

I want to say that Paulinho was terrible, but he wasn’t. He was just not playing in a role he understands. You don’t ask a box-to-box midfielder to play as a striker.

Gerard Deulofeu (6/10)

A fairly decent outing with very little to show.

Luis Suárez (7/10):

Forced out wide, Suárez was pretty ineffective for most of the game. However, he made a few runs that destabilised the opposition’s defence.

Lionel Messi (NA):

Not enough playing time.

Jordi Alba (NA):

Not enough playing time.

Ernesto Valverde (5/10)

Valverde has made some unorthodox selections in his time with Barcelona, but this one was probably as perplexing as they come.

Three things Ernesto Valverde needs to do against Leganes

What will the Barça manager do about his back-line?

Barça returns to La Liga after an eventful international break. Taking on CD Leganés at the Estadio Municipal de Butarque tomorrow, things are bittersweet for the Blaugrana. What will Ernie do this weekend? We don’t know.

However, here are three things we want him to do this weekend!

1. Find a way to make the defence work

Despite all the turmoil, the only thing to take away from a Barcelona fan’s perspective was that Javier Mascherano got injured. At a time when both Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Piqué are a solitary yellow card away from suspension, the back-line is looking very thin. People are looking towards Thomas Vermaelen to step up but there’s a good chance he gets overlooked.

Belgium v Japan - International Friendly
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The centre-back played the full 90 minutes in Belgium’s international friendly against Japan three days ago. Hopefully, the former Gunner is good to go—we retained him this summer for days like this. It is high time that Vermaelen delivered. Ideally, I’d start either one of Umtiti or Piqué alongside Vermaelen. If Pique or Umtiti can get a yellow card, it will give Barcelona another fixture before they can reset the card-accumulation for their starting centre-backs.

Two games, Vermaelen. That’s all I ask.

2. Start Paco Alcácer

We all know that Luis Suárez is in terrible shape and form at the moment. The striker hasn’t looked sharp in months and was rested during the international break to recover. It might not be a good idea to put Suárez on the bench, but Barcelona needs him for the long haul.

Barcelona v Sevilla - La Liga
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As much as we’d all love to get behind Paco, once Luisito starts banging them in, the 23-year-old stands no chance. However, for this one, the Valencian should be enough. Alcácer is in impressive form and his purple patch should be allowed to continue.

3. Use Denis Suárez, at least sparingly

Andrés Iniesta looks to be in smashing form with some excellent performances for club and country. However, at 33 years of age, one would hope that the veteran would get more rest. Alas, that hasn’t been the case.

Barcelona v Eibar - La Liga
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Still, Iniesta appears to be playing pretty frequently and it might do him some good to get a rest. Maybe even sit this one out. All of Sergi Roberto, Rafinha, and André Gomes are injured which only leaves Denis Suárez as an option. The Galician has been reiterating his desire to prove his worth to the club and maybe the time has come for him to show what he can do. Ernie has been quite shy about using the attacking midfielder. Hopefully, he gives Denis another chance.

A Fan’s Perspective: What difference would January signings make for Barcelona?

Should the club spend or not when the window reopens?

There is a lot of buzz around Barcelona making signings in the January transfer widow. It may only be international break noise but the names keep cropping up and one has to ask if January signings are really worth it?

Any player arriving will have to be available for all competitions for optimum utilisation. Buying players from direct competitors may not be the best choice since it limits the manager’s squad. However, if a player like Philippe Coutinho is really the need of the hour, Barcelona must be wise in pulling the trigger.

Matthijs de Ligt is also a rumoured target but brings forward the same questions. Is he ready to make a contribution midway through the season? The 18-year-old centre-back is being lined up as the long-term successor to Gerard Pique and while the potential is there, a January-deal may be unnecessary.

Barcelona had a poor summer but they cannot overcompensate by loading the squad full of players midway through the season. Not only will such moves hamper long-term relationships with clubs, they will also halt the arriving player’s momentum due to the lack of squad integration.

On the flip side, these players can contribute immediately from the upcoming season, should they arrive in January. A player like Coutinho could even add raw quality in the Liga this very season. He can produce game-changing moments irrespective of integration which is always a positive. It will also allow rest for club captain Andres Iniesta which is a huge plus.

The going may get tough, but Barcelona making signings in January is a double-edged sword.

Besides, there’s always the summer.

A Fan’s Perspective: Is Valverde smarter than we think?

The new coach remains unbeaten

Ernesto Valverde has not been the pinnacle of tactical reform in his time with Barcelona. From his coaching to his team selections and rotation policy, there is always something that’s not good enough.

Heavily criticised for his use of 4-4-2, Valverde has stuck to his guns and only made the occasional tweak in his rigid system.

It was surprising then, to see Barcelona play beautiful football against Sevilla albeit for just one half of the game. The coveted high-press was back and so was the 4-3-3 with a slight variation. Even the full-backs pushed higher up and commanded the flanks to perfection.

Why did Valverde switch to 4-4-2 in the second half? It could be possible that he is fiddling with Barcelona’s defensive formation to prepare for the business-end of the season.

Everyone and their mothers expects Barcelona to win by playing beautiful football. But in the latter half of the season, when Barcelona are up against some of the best attacking sides in the world, holding the defensive shape will be crucial.

Often times we criticise managers for not preparing the team enough with the formations they implement as a counter-tactic. Maybe Valverde indeed has his house in order–he’s just in it for the long haul.

Olympiacos 0-0 Barcelona, 2017 Champions League: Player Ratings

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” ― Alexander Pope

Marc-André ter Stegen (5/10)

For such a poor match, MAtS was arguably the only person to not have a horrible game. However, despite some decent saves, even the usually composed German had some lapses in concentration that led to some miscommunication with his defenders in dangerous positions.

Nélson Semedo (4.5/10)

He’s probably gonna bounce back but this was no performance to recall. Not only was Semedo laid back, he failed to combine with those around him barring the odd occasion. Some decent one-twos sprinkled over and that’s about it.

Javier Mascherano (5/10)

Decent in defence and had a solid performance but even Mascherano had his goofs. On a night where Sergio Busquets is making bad passes, I think he can be exempted from such criticism.

Samuel Umtiti (4.5/10)

Probably his worst performance in a Barcelona jersey and he still wasn’t the worst player on the pitch. Had some poor moments and his passing was suspect. Looked defensively solid.

Jordi Alba (4/10)

Ran a lot. That’s about it. With Denis on his side, the duo crowded the flank and stepped on each other’s toes constantly.

Sergio Busquets (5/10)

Probably the most composed on the pitch despite the lack of support. Lacked his usual invincibility and made some poorly weighted passes throughout the game.

Paulinho (4.5/10)

Looked tired and didn’t provide support in midfield. Made some runs into the box but that’s about it.

Sergi Roberto (4/10)

Got injured towards the end of the first half and got carded right before.

Denis Suárez (4.5/10)

Had some good moments like the beautiful through ball to Luis Suárez that the latter eventually messed up.

Luis Suárez (4/10)

Same old Luis Suárez that misses chances and doesn’t take his shots. Picked up the pace towards the end but it wasn’t enough.

Lionel Messi (6/10)

Some nice dribbles to entertain and constantly joined the midfield. Played everywhere he was needed but lacked the finishing touch on the night.

Gerard Deulofeu (4/10)

A lot of running. No end product.

Ivan Rakitić (NA)

Looked decent but didn’t play enough in my opinion.

André Gomes (NA)

Did not play enough.

Team (4.5/10)

Absolute garbage. This was one of the least gratifying matches you could watch as a football fan.

Ernesto Valverde (3/10)

How does someone pick the perfect line-up for a 4-3-3 and still mess it up? How can you watch your team play that way and still not change things? How can you introduce wingers into the game and not let them play as one?

Man of the Match: Fans

It takes a special kind of love for the club to sit through games like this one. Boring.

Three things Ernesto Valverde needs to do against Olympiacos

Time to seal a spot in the knockout round

Ernesto Valverde has his second homecoming this week as he visits his former club, Olympiacos, in Greece. The manager has a chance to secure a berth in the knockout stage for Barcelona. With that in mind, here are three things he needs to do against Olympiacos:

1. Play 4-3-3

The last time Ernesto Valverde faced Olympiacos, he had all the time in the world to build attacks from the back despite playing with ten men. The Greeks will not be as quiet at home, but their obvious intimidation is a major loophole waiting to be exploited. Ernie may not trust the 4-3-3 but it gives Barcelona the attacking edge needed to end the tie early.

2. Rest a few regulars

Rumours are floating around that Lionel Messi may have some discomfort in his hamstring. If that is indeed the case, there is absolutely no reason to start him. The same should be the case for any starter who isn’t at 100% physically. We need to win but not at the cost of our players.

3. Start Paulinho over Rakitic

I was strongly against the idea of Paulinho at Barcelona but after his powerful performances, I take my words back. Paulinho has been impressive in his time on the pitch and is currently a notch above Ivan Rakitic in the pecking order. The goal-scoring midfielder has all the tools to be a box-to-box player for Barcelona and 90 minutes in Greece will be a good opportunity to transition him towards being a starter.